Lessons on Joy from a 3-year-old

Lessons On Joy from a 3 year old

She wasn’t a pretty baby. She had dark, round eyes like saucers – much too big for her little face – and a full head of dark brown hair that spiked upwards and outwards – like porcupine quills.

But oh! how she grew into her face! By the time she was two Tali – my granddaughter – was stunningly beautiful. She still had the huge, dark eyes, but by then they were proportionate, framed by her ridiculously thick, dark eyelashes. Her long hair cascaded over her shoulders, sometimes falling over one eye, and her cheeks were always slightly flushed. She bore a greater resemblance to her older brother, Amir, than she did to her twin brother, Noam.

One day I will explain to my grandsons how their sister grew from being a typical, lovable little girl into a mature, confident, courageous and inspiring child who knew instinctively how to live joyfully. She had – at age three – been diagnosed with brain cancer, and endured the horrors of chemotherapy and stem cell transplantation. Yet through it all there were countless moments of laughter … moments of playfulness … moments of silliness … and heartwarming moments of quiet intimacy that soothed my frightened soul.

Tali loved to assume a leadership role in our relationship, and took every opportunity to show me how to perform tasks that I would pretend were difficult for me. As she guided me along she would offer words of encouragement:

“Good job, Granny.”

“I know you can do it.”

And when she tired of being my teacher we would sing. We had our own repertoire of children’s songs that we would sing together, and her eyes would dance as she lost herself in song. She would change the lyrics into nonsense syllables …. gesticulating with her hands … rocking her little body to and fro, eyes gleaming at me as she plotted her next act of mischief. In other words, she was being a typical three-year-old engaged in fun and games with her grandmother. Those were unforgettable moments.

 It is astounding how a child – cut off from the safety and familiarity of her home environment and being subjected to the terrible rigours of cancer treatment – can retain the capacity for joyful abandon.

“Gran, when you come tonight could you bring chicken muggets with?”   Her mispronunciation was too cute to correct. And I knew what was coming next.

“And maybe a pupcake too?”

So there we were, enjoying muggets and pupcakes. Then she needed a ‘mapkin’ to wipe her hands.

Tali gradually adapted to the nursing routines that were foisted upon her, and felt important as she would unbutton her pajama top so that the nurses could check her vitals, or press the syringe used to flush her feeding tube. When my daughter noticed one day that the IV bag needed replacing, she said so out loud, talking to no one in particular. The next thing she knew, Tali had pressed the buzzer to call the nurse.

“How can I help you?” asked the nurse over the intercom, thinking that she was talking to my daughter.

“IV please” announced Tali.

This from a three-year old …

When I stayed with Tali overnight she and I would follow her regular nighttime routines and rituals, and a s her energy faded we would share quiet moments, preparing her for sleep.

“I love you Tali,” I would say softly as I kissed her goodnight.

“I love you Granny,” she would reply sleepily.

Sigh …

Then she would lie quietly, facing me, her huge dark eyes staring into mine as she listened to me softly singing lullabies, until she would drift off into a peaceful sleep. In this intimate little ritual our souls connected and enveloped us both in a tender and loving embrace.

To be loved by a child is to receive the purest form of love – untainted by life’s vicissitudes. It is clean, clear and unconditional. It is innocent. It is untouchable.

Tali’s final discharge from hospital was was met with an unforgettable outpouring of excitement by Amir. He came bounding up the stairs, flew onto her bed and carefully hugged his sister, his face a picture of pure rapture.

Noam then entered the room shyly and tentatively, carefully climbed onto Tali’s bed and gently put his arms around her. One can only try to imagine what thoughts and feelings were churning around in his three-year-old mind.

Such are the moments that remain vivid in my mind’s eye and retain the power to move me.

As Tali gradually adjusted to her new life she began to regain her strength and her weight, and we dared to hope that she had won the battle as she and Noam celebrated their fourth birthday.

Four months after she left the hospital Tali suffered a relapse from which she would not recover.

For the past seven years I have watched my daughter deal with her devastating loss with the utmost grace and dignity. I know that it is a never-ending challenge for her to put one foot in front of the other, each and every day, vigilantly watching over her two sons, keeping Tali’s memory alive, and creating a new way of being in the world. My daughter lives her life just as Tali lived hers: the pain is always there, but there is also joy and there is laughter. And in quiet contemplation she sometimes finds moments of peace.

Through the months of her illness my love for Tali soared as if it had wings, and filled my entire being with tenderness. Thoughts and memories of my beloved granddaughter are never far from my mind. I expected that to happen. What I did not expect was that the bottomless ache her absence carved into my soul would gradually soften into eternal gratitude for having had four years with this wondrous child – the little girl with the big heart who taught me to seize the possibilities in each moment.

Posted on February 20, 2017 by Adele Gould
In: Bereavement, Uncategorized
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